Venezuela police rescue major leaguer Wilson Ramos

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VALENCIA, VENEZUELA (AP) - His eyes tearing up with emotion, Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos embraced his rescuers and said he had wondered whether he would survive a two-day kidnapping ordeal that ended when commandos swept into his captors’ mountain hideout.

Ramos said Saturday that he was happy and thankful to be alive a day after his rescue, and that the final moments had been hair-raising as police and the kidnappers exchanged heavy fire in the remote area where he was being held. He said his kidnappers had carefully planned the abduction and told him they were going to demand a large ransom.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get out of it alive,” Ramos told reporters at a police station in his hometown of Valencia, flanked by police investigators and National Guard commanders. “It was very hard for me. It was very hard for my family.”

Ramos, 24, had not been seen or heard from since he was seized at gunpoint outside his home Wednesday night and whisked away in an SUV. It was the first known kidnapping of a Major League Baseball player in Venezuela, and the abduction set off an outpouring of candlelight vigils and public prayers at stadiums as well as outside Ramos‘ house.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Saturday that authorities had arrested four of the captors, all of them Venezuelan men in their 20s. A 60-year-old woman and a 74-year-old man were also arrested as accomplices for supplying the kidnappers with food from their home in the area, he said.

Authorities are still searching for four Colombian men who escaped during the rescue, El Aissami said. He didn’t say whether anyone had been wounded in the gunfire.

El Aissami said investigators had studied past kidnappings in the area for clues about Ramos‘ whereabouts.

A remote mountainous area had been used in a previous kidnapping, El Aissami said, so investigators looked there and found a red SUV parked at a house near where Ramos was being held. The SUV had mud on it even though there was no mud in the area, he said.

It wasn’t clear how investigators connected that first house with the house where Ramos was being held.

President Hugo Chavez personally authorized the rescue operation once investigators thought they had found the spot, El Aissami said, and had followed the operation “minute by minute.”

Ramos had recently returned to his homeland after his rookie year with the Nationals to play during the offseason in the Venezuelan league.

He was just outside his house’s front door with relatives on Wednesday when he was abducted in his working-class neighborhood in Valencia, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) west of Caracas.

Ramos said that when he was seized, his captors drove him for five or six hours, and once changed from one SUV to another. He said they bound his hands at first, but later allowed him not to be tied up. The kidnappers didn’t cover their faces and they spoke little to him, he said.

“They demanded only money,” he said.

Ramos said some of his abductors spoke with Colombian accents and had been studying his movements before carrying out the abduction.

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